How 12 Artists Are Proving that a Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

“We are masters of the unsaid words,” said Winston Churchill, “but slaves of those we let slip out.” The significance of language—and specifically, words that are written or printed, making an indelible mark—is the unifying theme of “Words Matter,” the current group show at Robert Koch Gallery.

The exhibition features 12 artists who incorporate words, either spoken or written, within images: vintage photographs, album covers, splashy advertisements, snapshots of roadside diners, and airport windows. 

Featured works include Are You Rea, an eerie 1968 portfolio of lithographs by Robert Heinecken, the founder of UCLA’s photography program and the subject of a 2014 retrospective at MoMA; and Crackle & Drag, Death (track #20/0:25) (2014) TR Ericsson’s dubplate audio recordings of his mother. Like Heinecken, Ericsson’s artistic reputation precedes him: his work resides in the permanent collections at the Whitney and the Hirshhorn, and The Huffington Post named his upcoming solo show at the Cleveland Museum of Art as one of the most anticipated exhibitions of 2015.

Other notable works in “Words Matter” range from a selection of Michael Wolf’s “Real Fake Art” series, to a tongue-in-cheek pop art knockoff from Hugh Brown’s “Allegedly” series, a project that highlights the appearance of the chainsaw in American pop culture. Rounding out the show are World War II-era mixed media photo collages by Russian artist Alexander Zhitomirsky, Brian Ulrich’s searing explorations of contemporary life in commercial settings, Jeff Brouws’s somber “visual anthropologies” (see Eat, Inyokern, CA (1998)), and the mesmerizing and gently comical Target (2008) by the Israeli artist Shai Kremer, among others.

Taken together, these “Words”—at turns humorous and scathing, sentimental and mysterious, challenging and heartbreaking—pack a punch. To paraphrase Churchill, these words are out there, and can’t be taken back. It’s a fact you won’t be sorry of when walking around this thought-provoking exhibition.

—Bridget Gleeson


Words Matter” is on view at Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, Feb. 19–May 2, 2015.

Follow Robert Koch Gallery on Artsy.

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